Leon Trotsky

Lessons Of The Capitulations

(Obituary Reflections)

Written & Dated: February, 1930
First published: The Militant, Vol. III, No. 16, pp. 6–7, April 19, 1930. Signed by Trotsky under the pseudonym “Alpha”
Translated: The Militant, unknown.
Transcription/HTML Markup: D. Walters
Editing/Proofreading: Some corrections to grammar and spelling were made to the text. Sub-heads are all original from The Militant.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2011. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 .

There have been many conjectures about the capitulation of Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky. Is it a shrewd manoeuvre on the part of the Right, or does it mean a renewal of the right-centre bloc? These guesses in themselves are without much content. Maybe the troika of the Right secretly dreams about the approach of favourable conditions when it will once more raise its head; maybe, in view of the alarming economic symptoms, it is sorry for having recanted too hastily. It is quite possible, however, that the Stalinists consider it useful to keep the Right on hand, in case of a new turn. But these considerations are of no significance. What is important politically is that at the peak of the “ultra-left” course the bloc between the centrists and the Right was renewed, while repression against the Left was not relaxed, but intensified. Rykov, despite everything, is still the president of the Council of People’s Commissars, but Rakovsky cures his ailing heart in below-freezing weather at Barnaul. Tomsky and Rykov are on the Politburo, Bukharin is on the Central Committee, but Sosnovsky, B. Mdivani, Kavtaradze are in jail; Uglanov is the commissar of labour, but Blumkin is shot – yes, Blumkin is shot! These are the politically decisive facts in appraising the course of the Left as a whole.

However, the capitulation of all of the leaders of the Right after the capitulation of some of the Left is a fact of no little importance in itself. The significance of these ritualist capitulations for the fate of the Party will become clear if we look at them not from the viewpoint of subjective intrigues but of objective symptoms. One lesson, one conclusion, emerges above all others from the twists and turns of the last six years: the relentless, systematic, continuous stifling of the Party.

The “Leaders” Renounce Themselves

The Party represents ideological selection. It remains a Party only as long as the voluntary tie of ideas is its basis. But what meaning can ideas and principles have if the leaders of the Party alternately repudiate themselves, and the impersonal apparatus, devoid of ideas, not only asserts its infallibility now and forever, but even declares openly to the Party: “You can remove us only through civil war!” (Stalin in 1927). We recall once again: Zinoviev is the formal “eader” of the Communist Party and the Comintern, 1923-25; in the Opposition 1926-27, repents his incorrect struggle against Trotskyism; in 1928-29, renounces the Opposition and once more declares war against “counter-revolutionary” Trotskyism. Bukharin in 1922 is a “Trotskyist”; works hand in hand with Zinoviev, 1923-26; in 1926-28, becomes the theoretical leader of the Communist Party and the Comintern, the inspirer of the right-centre course; in 1928-29 is the theoretician of the Right Opposition; in 1929 confesses his errors and repudiates the very views that inspired him during the whole period of struggle against “Trotskyism”.

If we look at Stalin from the point of view of his ideas, we see that in different periods he picked up the ideas of Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Bukharin, and at present he picks up fragments of the Opposition’s ideas, not having any of his own. But just as “truth is the result of a court verdict” (Saltykov-Shchedrin), a reputation is the result of the apparatus manipulations – only for a certain time.

The automatism of Party life has reached its limits. The apparatus does not demand affirmation of any kind of principles; it demands only affirmation of its infallibility. The extortion of penitent documents is not aimed at developing the Party’s consciousness of a particular set of ideas (what kind of ideas would they be?). The purpose of the extortion is to impress upon the Party that any kind of counter-action or resistance, any kind of complaint, even a whisper against the apparatus, even a note in a diary (Kamenev!), brings only repression or compulsion to renounce one’s ideas. “Selfcriticism” serves the same purpose in another way, for it means that Party members are obliged to criticize the same things that the apparatus “criticizes”.

The Party represents ideological selection. It is the revolutionary tempering of character. The Party is the armour of the class with its staunchest, most hardened, and most steadfast elements. The cohesion of these elements is achieved gradually, under the ceaseless test of events. The living tissue of the Party is therefore very complex and delicate. The Party can no more be held under a press than can a human hand: the circulation of blood is cut off and the tissue dies.

The process by which the Party’s tissues are dying is enGendered, in our view, by the increasing physical pressure from the Party’s bureaucracy. The capitulations of all the “eaders” of the Party in turn, by groups and one at a time, before an apparatus that is totally devoid of principles and ideals, indicate the absolutely unprecedented strength of the pressure, as does its present stage of development during which the circulation of ideas in the Party is virtually ceasing.

The circumstances around the confessions of the right-wing elements are particularly striking because of the apparatus’s transparent cynicism.

Unexpectedly and without warning the world learns that three of the most eminent leaders of the Party and the soviet republic – the leader of the Comintern, the head of the government, and the leader of the trade unions – have been sharply opposed to the Central Committee for nearly two years, and that they consider the official policy detrimental. How can it be that this did not come to the surface? The fate of the revolution was concerned! Where were the disputed questions discussed and decided?

The minutes of the Central Committee are printed for the information of the Party. But it so happens that the apparatus leads a double life. Questions are decided behind the scenes, while on the official scene pretended argument and voting are conducted according to a previously arranged procedure. This is what the Party is fed. And moreover, during the sharp opposition of the three members of the Politburo, it was officially declared, and primarily by the general secretary, Stalin, that the rumours and talk about disagreements in the Central Committee and about a Right deviation in the Politburo were nothing but vile “Trotskyist” calumnies. Afterwards, in a belated fashion, it is ascertained that under “calumny” one must understand that accurate and exceptionally important facts were hidden from the Party.

How the Capituations are Obtained

The open agitation against Bukharin started about a month or two before his capitulation. But the name of Rykov, as one of the leaders of the Right deviation, was mentioned aloud only on the eve of the November [1929] plenum of the Central Committee. With particular mercilessness, however, Pravda started to campaign against Rykov only after his capitulation, insinuating that the confession of the Right leaders was “insincere”. In other words, the central organ of the Party considers it quite possible that a person placed by the Party in the most responsible position in the government is capable of deceiving the Party and the masses in questions involving the fate of the Party and the country. The insinuation is made in such a tone as if this were quite a simple and ordinary occurrence. Nonetheless, it is a question of political deceit, cynical unprincipledness, and betrayal of ideas on the part of Central Committee members who even today, as these lines are written, stand at the head of the Soviet government or are on the staff of its most important organs.

In passing, and already at the conclusion, the Party learns that for a year and a half the head of the government and the head of the trade unions “have been playing with the fate of the Party and the revolution” (literally) and “gambled on a catastrophe” (literally!) – all this somewhere in the bureaucratic underground. The help of the Party, it seems, was not required to expose their criminal “game”. How else could the press be silent? But the press was silent. The Party was lulled and deceived. The Right deviation appeared to be personified in the figure of – Frumkin. Publicly, Rykov and Stalin both fought against Frumkin and Shatunsky, and this hypocritical show was called the struggle against the Right deviation. Whether Frumkin fought against himself, we do not know. At one time we even thought that, according to a decision of the Central Control Commission, Frumkin was sentenced beyond redemption, so that there could always be a ready object on hand for the needs of a struggle against the Right deviation. But this hypothesis was not verified.

Only after Rykov had capitulated – which could make it appear that any further struggle was unnecessary – only from that moment were Rykov and with him the rest of the troika subjected to particularly unrestrained public abuse, before the Party, the country, and the world. The Party was not needed for the struggle against the “conspiracy” of Rykov, Bukharin, and Tomsky. The Party was assured that there was no struggle. But after the behind-thescenes victory over the right-wing elements, the Party was shown three political scalps: Look at them; this is how the general secretary deals with and will continue to deal with all those who stand in his way.

And Radek Yelps, “Me Too. ”

The method of dealing with the Right leaders in a new stage in the process of the Bonapartist transformation of the Party regime: on stage they occupy themselves with fighting exercises against Frumkin, and afterwards unexpectedly, the skeleton of Rykov is shown. The automatism of the struggle and the contempt for the Party here given expression hitherto unknown.

The picture of the Party regime becomes clearer in view of the circumstances that Rykov, Tomsky, and Bukharin capitulated a day after the Radeks and Smirnovs thought it necessary to capitulate “in the interests of a struggle against the Right”. While returning to Moscow from exile, Radek wailed all along the way that two parts of the Central Committee would soon be arresting each other and that it was, therefore, necessary to rush to the aid of the centre, that is, Stalin, in the struggle against the Right, that is, Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky. As soon as Radek had finished writing the third or fourth clause of repentance, the stern leaders of the right wing of the Central Committee hastily declared that they, too, burn with the desire to help the centre in the struggle against all deviations, particularly against the Right. Thus the encirclement of Frumkin was 100 per cent guaranteed. By the time Smirnov and Boguslavsky arrived, all the places in the hunting Party had been filled. But then – as luck would have it – Frumkin himself confessed. The right wing finally became a transcendental phenomenon.

In spite of the tragedy of the whole situation, it cannot be denied that the Left capitulators bring into it an element of buffoonery. Hurrying to join the apparatus in a struggle against the Right danger, the capitulators of the Left conduct a struggle exclusively on the left, that is, against – Trotskyism. And it is for this reason that Yaroslavsky called them “the best elements” of the Opposition. Yaroslavsky should know who are better, who worse!

Zinoviev and Kamanev “Repent ” Once again

Clearly Zinoviev had to take advantage of this explosion in the bureaucratic tangle in order to remind everyone that he, thank God, is alive and, as a capitulator of the first rank, so to speak, an aristocrat in the family of deserters, should have all the privileges in the struggle against deviations and, above all, it is understood, against “counter-revolutionary Trotskyism”.

Strictly speaking, the need for a new confession from Zinoviev, and one so ardent (“I have finally merged with the Party”), can appear incomprehensible at first glance; it would seem that the fellow, having already recanted once, could let others have a turn. But in reality it is not so. The first confession lacked the necessary enthusiasm. The lack of this elusive sentiment became obvious to Yaroslavsky when the Opposition published the minutes of the negotiations for a struggle against Stalin, carried on between Kamenev and Bukharin, with Sokolnikov as intermediary. Kamenev kept these minutes for the sake of Zinoviev, who remained at Kaluga for a time after his first recantation. At any rate, while carrying on negotiations with Bukharin, Kamenev and Zinoviev – during meetings with Oppositionists – would sigh deeply about the split in the Opposition, complain of the sharp attacks by Trotsky, and express the hope for common work in the future. When all this happened to be revealed, these elders of the capitulationist clan became gloomily withdrawn. Kamenev declared that he would write a book about Lenin, for he saw that he could not bake a cake with Stalin. Then the moment the general secretariat showed the scalp of the penitent Rykov to the Party, Zinoviev very opportunely thought of his own scalp and recanted for a second time, this time with such overwhelming enthusiasm that it should have touched even the tempered heart of Molotov himself.

But in vain. In Stalin’s report to the conference of Marxist agronomists, the “Trotsky-Zinoviev” and even “ZinovievTrotsky” Opposition figured more than once. A careful reader could not fail to notice this. The fact is that within the bureaucracy the Opposition was always called “Trotskyist”, so as to underline Zinoviev’s lack of independent ideas. Why now, after Zinoviev’s successive capitulations, when he has succeeded in “finally merging with the Party” – why and for what purpose is the point about Zinoviev and the Opposition now raised? Accidentally? Oh, no, there may be accidents in the five-year plan, but not in the apparatus manoeuvres. The design became clearer yet in the utterances of the obliging Kaganovich. The latter, in one of his recent ceremonial speeches, spoke about the Zinoviev-Kamenev Opposition as if we were living in 1926. The general political sense of this reference to the long-silenced struggle was clear, even without special comment. The Stalinist apparatus “hinted” to Zinoviev and Kamenev: do not think, please, that we will let you raise your heads. The leaders of the apparatus “hinted” to their underlings: under no circumstances must you let these equivocal repenters raise their heads! No more, no less.

The equilibrium of the leadership – of the current personal apparatus – rests on an artificial and extremely strained system of theoretical fiction, historical legend, and real violence against the Party. This system demands a further tightening of the screws, and in no way can the screws be loosened. For this system even Zinoviev is dangerous. Every one of his inflated articles in Pravda puts the international upstart Molotov alarmingly on guard.

Now we learn the reason that prompted the apparatus marshals to remind Zinoviev and Kamenev that they must forever give up their “senseless dreams”. It seems that Zinoviev tried to imply, during his oral confession, that the Opposition was not wrong in everything, as the struggle of the Right proves. And Kamenev admitted (in the diary) that Trotsky was right when he warned him and Zinoviev that capitulation is the road, not to the Party, but to political death. Kamenev always showed more inclination and ability to draw conclusions than Zinoviev. But as Lenin said in his testament, “it is no accident” that Kamenev was an ally of Zinoviev. “It is no accident” that he went with him through all the stages of degradation of ideas in order to reach the simple conclusion that had been pointed out to him: such a road leads only to political death. And so both had to recant anew, this time with enthusiasm, which, by the way, did not protect them from the public slap in the face by Kaganovich – the Amsterdamer.*

The Danger of Bonapartism

More than once we have had occasion to explain that the Party regime does not take shape independently, but is a function of policy, which in its turn carries through the interests and reflects the pressures of classes. The bureaucratization of the Communist Party, beginning in 1922, continued parallel the growth of the economic strength and political influence of the petty bourgeoisie, basing itself on N.E.P., and the stabilization of the bourgeois regimes in Europe and the whole world, as a result of the successive defeats of the proletariat. But the Party regime is not merely a passive reflection of a deeper order. The Party is a living force of history, particularly the ruling Party in a revolutionary dictatorship. Bureaucratism is does not have an immaterial character. Its bearer is the large solidified bureaucracy with a whole world of interests. In this way, like any other secondary and superstructural factor, the Party regime – is known and very wide limits – acquires an independent role. Moreover it is becoming the focal point where all the deviations, errors, dangers, contradictions, and mistakes. It now becomes that link in the general chain, through the medium of which it is possible to get to other links. Maybe it is more correct to say that the Party regime became that Gordian knot which the Party must disentangle at all costs, so that there may be no chance for Bonapartism to cut the knot with a sword.

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Last updated on: 1.9.2012